Posts Tagged ‘self help’

Aspiration is the greatest ally anyone can have in their rise to success. It gives “you” a reason to move forward despite obstacles and setbacks. But why put “you” in quotation marks? Because there is more than one you to consider. Human beings have divided natures. As pointed out by Plato two millennia ago when he compared the soul to a chariot being pulled upward by a white horse and downward by a black horse. Depending on which horse you encourage, your personal fate is in your hands.

Setting aside a loaded word like soul, everyone has a choice to write their own story. In fact, every decision you make represents a stroke of the pen, so to speak, leading the main character – “you” – to the next stage of the narrative. “You” therefore is a creation. No one has a fixed identity, one bestowed at birth or in early childhood. Each person is open to revision as their story unfolds.

When you step back and ask “Who am I?” the author is looking at his creation. The process of building a self is a creative act. Even if you blame the outside world for your problems, even if you bemoan your bad luck or wish you had a missing X factor to improve your lot (more money, better parents, an Ivy League diploma), these thoughts also become part of your story. Mysteriously, the self is self-created. No one is exempt from this truth.

Which leads us back to aspirations. The “you” that has the greatest chance for success is driven by higher aspirations. The “you” that has no aspirations is very likely to fall short. Look at the difference between them:

Aspirational “You”

– is curious, open-minded, and eager for new experiences

– finds motivation from within

– wants to be self-sufficient

– speaks his own truth

– has inspiring role models

– feels attached to a higher purpose

“You” without aspirations

– looks out for number one and therefore feels insecure

– fears loss and is greedy for gain

– measures itself by external rewards (money, possessions, status, power)

– is reluctant to trust

– takes a defensive and self-protective stance

– has no higher values except self-interest

Even though I’ve described the aspirational “you” as more desirable than the “you” without aspirations, there’s a great deal of social pressure to think the opposite. In a “greed is good” ethos, the value of self-interest gets promoted in two ways. First, it’s supposedly the stance of winners, defined as overachieving, ruthless competitors. Second, if you don’t defend your self-interest, nobody else will. Does anyone want to be idealistic, soft, compliant, and non-competitive?

If you answer no, you are letting externals define your attitude, because there is nothing softabout having aspirations (consult the biographies of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King), and keeping true to your aspirations is the opposite of being compliant. Defining the game as an either-or between winning and losing betrays the complexity of the life stories we all write every day. Moments of winning catch the spotlight. Outside the spotlight are years and decades of challenges, the main challenge being how to build a self that stands for who “you” really are.

In my own experience – and as a teacher of leadership skills – the most successful people are aspirational. They define their success in inner terms. They refuse to be bad actors in both senses of the word – bad at acting the roles assigned to them and bad in their personal behavior. In a society propelled by advertising, mass media, competition, and dynamic change, the temptation to run with the pack is strong, and the pack is always running for external rewards. And the pack gives you an easy identity as “one of us.” For all that, your life story has only one author, and its main character only one source. A “you” without aspirations will never be worthy of the possibilities that are hidden within.

Wellbeing and Visionary Leadership: Deepak Chopra in Mexico

Courtesy of YouTube/The Chopra Well

I am just celebrating the second anniversary of the day I officially became chancellor of theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – one of the premier public research universities in the world and one of the original land-grant universities established by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. I am responsible for leading an institution with more than 43,000 students, 1,800 faculty members and more than 425,000 living alumni around the world.

It’s probably not surprising that in this role I’m often asked to speak and write about leadership. And while I appreciate these opportunities, I always feel a little strange because I have to start all of them with the confession that I consider myself more a leader by accident than by design. I can say with complete authority that, “Be the top administrator at a major public research university,” was never on my childhood list of things to do.

Years ago, when I earned my doctorate and started my academic career, my goal was to understand the molecular biology and biochemistry of the brain and how the endocrine system influences the way the brain works, not to be a department head, a dean or a provost. Yet, in the course of my career, I found myself in all of these roles.

We’ve all heard references to “born leaders” or to be “born to lead.” I cringe a bit when I hear this. In part because it implies that leadership is in one’s DNA and that it’s something only a special few can ever possess. Leadership is a skill like any other that must be cultivated.

And while I believe there is no defined formula or route to leading, I can share a few of the things I’ve learned on the very unexpected, but very fulfilling road that started with Chinese immigrant parents in New York City and has led to the University of Illinois.

Get a mentor

Connections with people make all the difference. I firmly believe one of the best things you can do is to find someone you admire and trust and learn from them. This is not for networking purposes or merely to get ahead – the key here really is learning. Ask them questions. Watch how they behave and how they become leaders through what they do and how they do it. My mentors helped me see what opportunities I might pursue and they taught me to see the lessons available to me at each step in my career. From the things I got wrong, the things I got right, and the things I could learn from those around me.

See beyond yourself

Those individuals who end up in leadership positions are often the most ambitious, but leadership takes far different skills than those used for personal gain. Once leadership is attained, your worth becomes far less about what you personally accomplish and much more about the success of the team, or in my case the university. That means finding satisfaction in the accomplishments of others, not just getting co-authorship or invitations to sit on boards or adding more lines to adorn your resume. Leadership is often a service role. And it takes a great deal of humility to listen, consult and solicit criticism from others.

Have integrity

It seems obvious and clichéd, but never compromise on ethics and integrity. And no matter how successful, don’t copy people you don’t respect. Identify people you can trust versus those who want to please you. As you become more successful there are more and more of the latter. The colleagues and leaders I’ve most admired and tried to emulate are the ones who always seem to recognize who is telling you what you need to know rather than those telling you what they think you want to hear.

Recognize your opportunities

Finally, it is critical to always remember that leaders aren’t born or created by organizational charts nor ordained by the title on a business card. True leaders emerge at every level and in every situation. They are established by their actions and decisions – not by a nameplate. And they are recognized for what they accomplish together with the people around them when the chance arises.

Realize your path may change

For me, my road to Illinois was in some significant ways an accidental path to a place I never envisioned. I have the privilege of representing the students, faculty, staff and alumni of a university that can honestly claim to have changed our world. It may not have been where I ever expected to be, but for me, it has turned out to be exactly where I am privileged to be.



Lots of people – myself included – talk a good game about being open-minded. But how many of us are truly open to ideas that challenge our most closely-held beliefs? This question is important because the odds are overwhelming that at some point your career, marriage or even life will be undone by your belief in an idea that proved to be wrong.

One of my most treasured and longstanding friends is a conservative Texas CEO; I am a somewhat liberal creative type born in Massachusetts. I’m pretty sure we have never voted for the same candidate. But one reason I treasure his friendship is because he works very hard to try and understand how I think, and I do the same about him. Each of us recognizes that we are limited by our beliefs, attitudes and – most importantly – restricted access to information.

Limited access to information in the Information Age?

Many of us are surrounded by people who share our views. If you are religious, you congregate regularly with people of the same religion. Americans are surrounded by Americans; the same is true in Russia, India, China and Portugal. If you work for a cautious firm, you are surrounded by other cautious professionals. If you work for a startup, you associate with people more willing to take risks than the general public.

When you go online, you do not see the same Web that I see. You see a Web that has been personalized to match your ideas, preferences and activities. So you find more reasons to be set in your ways, and so do I.

The more set you are in your ways, the more blind spots you have. That’s why a closed mind is so dangerous.

The big problem is, we are blind to our blind spots.

As we get “experienced,” we think we get wiser. In reality, we simply accumulate a longer list of mistakes we have made. If we are reasonably smart, we avoid making the same mistakes again.

But few of us have the courage to SEEK OUT our blind spots. Doing so requires challenging many of our most cherished beliefs. It makes us feel foolish. Why would we deliberately do something our brains are telling us is nonsense?

Let me be clear: I am just as blind as you. I count pattern recognition as one of my best skills, but thinking in this manner limits my creativity and causes me to draw some conclusions that are stunningly wrong. (Unfortunately, it can take months or years for me to recognize when this happens.)

I cannot give you an easy prescription for opening your mind. Anything that’s easy will simply fool you into believing you are being open-minded; it won’t actually open your mind.

The only thing I can tell you is that lurking among your beliefs are one or more deadly traps that have the potential to cut short your success, health and/or happiness.

I tell you this not out of a sense of altruism. I tell you in the hope that your responses to this article will further motivate me to seek out and challenge my own blind spots.

Time to call my friend, Bill.